Oh dawn patrol, you silly bitch. Nothing brings you back to gromhood faster than an early bedtime, perhaps getting tucked in by your mom (or now your roommate, I guess), putting on a surf video and dreaming of epic waves while you make those comic book Z’s until the crack of dawn. The dawn patrol is sort of like the ultimate currency for surfing’s hardcore points. If some salty kid in your 9 a.m. section says, “Hey man, the waves are supposed to be good today,” and you respond with “I know, I already had a dawn patrol session this morning,” then to this individual you are the epitome of the Gnar.
This is because dawn patrols are the true test of a surfer’s commitment, forcing you to choose between two of the best things in the world: surfing and sleeping. You gamble with your sleep cycle, sometimes coming out big like a Vegas fat cat, reaping the rewards of the early morning glassy barrels while everyone else is still having scary dreams about giving a speech butt-naked in front of friends and family. Other times, however, we make our coffee and nibble our grapefruit in vain when we get to the beach and find nothing but tiny surf and shattered dreams.
When we were actually groms this was a much larger problem. I can recall getting dropped off at the beach when I was grom enough to not have a driver license and needed a the minivan mom-shuttle to enjoy the beach just as much as I needed swell. One time my friends and I got dropped off for a dawn patrol session and were told by the motherly powers that be that we would get picked up in four hours. The surf ended up being flat and blown out, and our little troop of surf-scouts spent four hours building the sandcastle to end all sandcastles. I’ve attempted this more recently, but the sandcastle just doesn’t have the same appeal when you’re no longer three feet tall and doing your best to remember to wear your retainer.
This was only one of the hundreds of times that I have rolled the dice and came up short on the dawn patrol gamble, but I still keep setting that alarm painfully early for more. The thing is that if you have one great dawn patrol session for every 10 attempts, then the other nine just seem to fade out of your memory until the only sessions that you can remember are the epic ones. That’s why every old surfer will talk your ear off about how good it was “back in the day” – not because they are all senile, but because every surfer has very selective memory when it comes to past sessions.
There is no way I can even try to remember any bad dawn patrol sessions last year, but I can close my eyes and clearly see the view out of that first sandbar barrel last winter, only able to hear the swirling water, and only able to see the first rays of sun fall upon the virgin water surface with a few jealous souls paddling over the shoulder. Wow, I don’t know about you, but I’m suddenly feeling very aroused.
Who needs sleep when you could be enjoying the view of the ocean from the inside out? It pays to have selective memory, and I think we can all forgive the Pacific for the disappointments and just hold on tight to the memories of great days past. With that said, the Pacific is a cold-blooded bitch that offered nothing but close-outs and kelp this morning for my first dawn patrol in a while. I bitched and moaned, and thought about kicking over the “save the snowy plover” on the beach at Sands, but I didn’t. Instead, I went home and had breakfast – which is always going off, even if the surf isn’t.
And isn’t that the whole point? Even if you do get skunked on a dawn patrol session, the worst possible outcome is that you get to go home, get nice and warm and scramble some eggs (not snowy plover eggs though – those guys have enough problems already). So go ahead and lose some sleep over it, because you know you will get breakfast out of it, and you might even get a barrel or two.